How to Shop for Rare and Exclusive Spirits at Duty Free

Feb 21, 2018

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Everyone knows that duty-free and tax-free shops are ideal places to buy wine and spirits at a discount. But not everyone knows that these same shops also feature exclusive offerings that can only be purchased at international airports — especially spirits, and particularly Scotches.

Years back, spirits producers discovered it was good business to offer something additional — something to reach beyond buyers looking for a few dollars off their favorite bourbon — and to appeal to connoisseurs always on the search for something different and more difficult to find, even if it meant spending more.

Thus, travel exclusives were born.

Creating these exclusives was second nature to Scotch brands that were already used to distilling their basic “whisky” spirit in mass quantities, then finishing it in barrels that had been previously used somewhere else, usually from America where they make whiskey spelled with an “e.” It was easy to select only a few special barrels that had first made port or Cognac or sherry and produce a more-limited, higher-priced offering. Sometimes, it was just a single barrel that yielded only a few hundred bottles.

Of course, not every exclusive is available in every airport, and some of them are filtered off into the gray or secondary market for online sale. Here are nine exclusives to whet your drinking appetite.

Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch, 1990 Vintage

Proof: 46% ABV (92 proof)

Price: 285 pounds (about $400) in a 70 cl gift box

What makes this special: Only 3,200 bottles made, it was launched at Heathrow (LHR) and Gatwick (LGW) terminals in 2017 and is being rolled out this year in selected airports in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Dictador “Best of 1981” Rum

Proof: 44% ABV (88 proof)

Price: 190 euros (about $235) for 70 cl

What makes this special: Distilled in 1981 for a special client, it was aged in a Bourbon cask, which yielded 318 bottles. Available at airports in Warsaw and Krakow.

Johnnie Walker “The Spice Road” Explorers’ Club Collection Scotch

Proof: 40% ABV (80 proof)

Price: About $36 for 1 liter in Dubai, but widely available

What makes this special: Johnny Walker launched this expression in 2012 as the first of its Explorers’ Club selections, one whose spicy flavors reflects the spirit’s exotic namesake.

Highland Park “Ragnvald” Warrior Series Single Malt Scotch

Proof: 44.6% ABV  (89.2 proof)

Price: 395 pounds (about $553) for 70 cl

What makes this special: Available at Manchester Airport (MAN) and other selected stores, this is a no-age statement malt aged in sherry casks and named after a noted Viking warrior.

Macallan “Limited Release MMXII” 1824 Collection Scotch

Proof: 49.5% ABV (99 proof)

Price: 2,100 euros (about $2,605) for 70 cl

What makes this special: One of the most-expensive bottles in any shop, only 1,824 bottles of the Sherry cask-finished whisky were released in 2012.

Remy Martin Prime Cellar Selection “Cellar No. 16” Cognac

Proof: 40% ABV (80 proof)

Price: 61 euros (about $75) for 1 liter

What makes it special: Each Cognac cellar has its own aromas and Remy’s Cellar No. 16 is a warmer one with newer oak casks; hence, this brandy accentuates vanilla and other warm spices.

Jameson Deconstructed Series “Round” Irish Whiskey

Proof: 40% ABV (80 proof)

Price: 37.50 euros (about $46) for 1 liter

What makes it special: “Round” is one of three whiskies —”Bold” and “Lively” are the other two — that were produced when Jameson distillers asked themselves the question, “What would happen is we pulled apart our whiskey and amplified its key characteristics?” “Round” was one of the answers.

Jim Beam “Kentucky Dram” Bourbon

Proof: 40% ABV (80 proof)

Price: $45 for 75 cl

What makes this special: This unusual whiskey is a turnabout on the Scotch practice of using Bourbon casks for finishing, as it is a Bourbon finished in a Scotch barrel — perhaps from Ardmore, as both are owned by Beam Suntory.

Ron Abuelo “Finish Collection” Rum

Proof: 40% ABV (80 proof)

Price: $85 for collection of three different bottles totaling 2 liters

What makes it special: This Panamanian producer has made available at the Panama City airport a one-package selection of three different cask finishes: Oloroso Sherry, tawny Port and Napoleon Cognac.

A final note: For those who prefer to shop in advance, check your destination airport’s online site to see if the duty-free inventory is listed and whether you can order in advance for later pickup.

Prices accurate as of publication date; featured image by BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

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